For many years, I thought of art as something I had to do in the studio. I didn’t think I needed a dedicated space to paint (I painted in a corner of my bedroom for years) but was of the very firm opinion that the only place I could do art was in my painting space.
In more recent years, I’ve discovered that’s simply not true. I don’t have to be in my studio in order to make art—and neither do you! There are a lot of other times and places when you can practice your craft, and one of them is on long trips.
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Here are a few lessons I learned during a recent week-long journey.
The first rule of traveling with art is to travel light. The shorter the trip, the fewer supplies you need. If you can’t take everything in the studio with you (even if you want to) how do you decide what to take?
Regardless of your medium, think basic. For dry media artists, that’s a pad of paper and a pencil or two. For wet media artists, canvas (or paper), basic colors such as one each of the primaries, a black and a white, a couple of brushes, and a way to clean brushes or store them until they can be cleaned.
In all cases, keep it small. Small pads of paper. Small canvases. Small brushes. Things you can easily carry in a tote or small bag.
Two things all artists can make use of (or should be able to make use of) are a pad of paper and a pencil. Paper and pencils are ideal for working from a moving car, bus, train or plane. No mess. No smells, and easy enough to tuck into a backpack, large pocket, or bag.
NOTE: I deliberately left erasers off that list because the idea is to sketch and not take time to erase. Use darker lines or smudged lines to make corrections. That gives you more time to create, and fewer things to keep track of while you’re creating.
Use your “down” time for art
Think outside the box on this one. Don’t limit yourself to sketching, drawing, or painting only on schedule. Yes, you will be planning art time when you can work on a take-along project, or do a little plein air work. But that’s not the only time you have.
It may not even be the best time you have to draw. Consider this:
I recently went to Michigan for a week-long visit and took the train back to Kansas. There was a lot of catching up with family, but there was also a lot of down time that could easily have been converted to art time.
Early morning hours before activities begin
Quiet moments as the day winds down
I woke up to snow one morning. The perfect time for quick sketches.
My family lives in the country. I live in town, so there were all kinds of natural subjects everywhere I turned. Trees alive and dead, water, farm buildings, the sky. . .
Then came the return to Kansas.
The train trip should have been under twenty hours, including a three-hour layover in Chicago. Mechanical difficulties on the first leg of the trip stretched a three-hour ride into a six-hour trip. The train moved at about half speed with frequent slow-downs and stops along the way. Lots of scenery I may never see again just waiting to be sketched. Some of the stops were long enough for full-color drawings.
Delays on the first leg of the trip resulted in an unplanned overnight stay in Chicago. In an upscale hotel. On the 21st floor with a view (albeit limited) of Lake Michigan. Tall, gleaming buildings all around. The lake stretching away to the horizon. The evening to myself. In other words, the perfect opportunity to make art of some kind.
Before the train left the next day, I had a two- to three-hour wait in the boarding lounge at Union Station. There literally thousands of potential sketches throughout that facility.
The second leg of the trip went more smoothly, but was still long enough to provide ample time for sketching what I saw outside the windows during daylight hours and what was all around me inside the coach after dark.
Bottom line? There are a ton of sketching opportunities for the artist who travels with his or her art eyes open.
Try an art journal
Art journals are great ways to document all kinds of events, including travel. Even if you don’t plan to do any serious artwork while traveling, it’s worthwhile to consider doing an art journal to document the trip and keep your artistic self motivated.
What’s that you say? You don’t keep an art journal? Then travel is a perfect time to try art journaling! You don’t have to spend a lot of money to begin, because all you need is a small drawing pad or notebook to draw in and something to draw with.
Don’t like pencils? Try markers or pens. I’ve used ball point pens for sketching when I had nothing else to use. Ordinary ball point pens make for great on-the-spot sketching and journaling.
Stay “art-ready” while traveling
The most important part of traveling with art is to always be prepared. Whatever your medium, be prepared to travel on the spur of the moment. Keep a field kit ready so you can grab it and go when the opportunity presents itself.
My field kit (shown below) is kept handy for quick trips and long ones. Combined with the ball point pens I keep in my purse, I’m equipped to sketch anywhere at any time with a minimum of fuss.
The key is to train yourself to include it when you pack. That trip to Michigan I mentioned earlier? It happened so quickly that I forgot my field kit. All the tips I’ve just shared with you come from the unpleasant realization that I missed a ton of drawing opportunities. Don’t make the same mistake!